GENTLE LOVE, a duo consisting of Metal Gear Solid series composer Norihiko Hibino and Etrian Odyssey pianist AYAKI, continue their long-running Prescription for Sleep series by taking on boss/battle themes in a collection titled Fight for Your Dreams. Considering their standard smooth jazz sound, as seen in their Undertale album and Game Music Lullabies series, fast-paced and high-stress battle music may seem like a stretch to adapt in this fashion. And yet, there is something truly satisfying about translating the soundtrack of these frantic moments into something more relaxing and using the music in a new way. After all, being able to stay calm and respond evenly when it is most difficult to do so is one of the real tests of any relaxation or mindfulness practice. So how did our brave saxophone and piano fare in the battle to create this album? Let’s take a closer look at its components and find out!
First and foremost, GENTLE LOVE has some key factors working in their favor going into Fight for Your Dreams. It is the sixth entry in the series, which means they not only have significant experience arranging relaxing video game music into smooth jazz, but also a history of working together as performers that creates a comfortable atmosphere throughout the entire album. Hibino’s work with the Hibino Sound Therapy lab also provides a framework with which to approach source material that does not necessarily fit the soothing tone the duo aims for; additionally, it provides a general awareness of the emotional effects music can have on the mind at multiple levels. This background, of course, makes a profound difference in both track selection and the arrangements themselves.
There is a surprising amount of musical range to draw from when it comes to battle themes. Some build slowly, while others hit with a lot of force; some brood, some aim to overpower, and others are eerie and convey futility in opposing the inevitable or unknown. Much of this spectrum is represented on the album, and GENTLE LOVE has managed to make it sound cohesive, an impressive feat I want to give them credit for right from the start. The general strategy involved in Fight for Your Dreams is to intersperse these different types of themes. For example, the album starts with a beautiful rendition of the more solemn “Veiled in Black” from Final Fantasy XV and immediately transitions into a set of punchier material, including a direct transition into Mega Man 2.
“Veiled in Black” sets the tone of the album beautifully, with lingering sax phrases and a dreamy melody. The long interludes in the three subsequent high-tempo songs, particularly in the familiar tune “MEGALOVANIA,” demonstrate that even a song specific to an Undertale Genocide run has the potential to edge the listener toward a calmer state. There are some quick passages in this portion of the album, but they generally don’t feel out of place, and both performers utilize phrasing and the full tone of their instruments so that the net effect is introspective. My favorite interlude of the album by far is in “Battle with the Four Fiends” because they took the harsh, percussive section of the original song and replaced it with some rapid-flowing piano for a more subdued (but still dichotomous) sound. That piano interlude honestly reminded me of the fastest sections of Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” a song that brings together disparate elements and speed changes to create a slightly melancholy whole.
Next, we are treated to a simple, pared-down version of “People Imprisoned by Destiny” from Chrono Cross. The melody rings out, and this song is an excellent tool to transition into deeper calm as the Fight for Your Dreams progresses. This piece helps expand the definition of a battle theme for the album because it’s most often associated with a desolate landscape and the consequences of a battle somehow hidden away, possibly even forgotten. Bookending this is possibly the most jarring addition to the album: the mini-boss theme from Yoshi’s Island. I played both of these games extensively when I was younger, and I was still surprised at how the two melodies sound side by side. They do fit together in an odd way, but it still feels like Yoshi’s infectious momentum impacts the gravitas of the previous track.
Fortunately, Yoshi is safely contained by the next song choice and the album’s second surprise, an 8-minute long, exceedingly mellow arrangement of “Autobot-Decepticon Battle” from The Transformers: The Movie. It’s easy to spend that full length of time chilling out with the robots in disguise, letting the cares of the day subside. This trend continues with more RPG fare in the next two tracks, first through Ys III music that calls back some of Yoshi’s energy, and then via an arrangement from the minimalist Dark Souls soundtrack to quiet things down once again. It’s good to see Ornstein & Smough, not only because their theme fits well with the other selections of music on this album, but because you battle them as a pair in a fight that involves conviction in the your decision-making — some interesting thematic material to add to the mix. “Intolerance” and “Mother Brain” add some variety after an RPG-heavy time and help guide the whole collection toward completion, whereas the original “In a Better Place” draws from the interludes throughout the album and ties everything together.
On the whole, the music here is translated well and is a welcome change from other entries in the Prescription for Sleep series; it reliably gives a variety of video game battle music (and a little film music) the GENTLE LOVE treatment. If you’ve enjoyed their other work or smooth jazz in general, you will appreciate Fight for Your Dreams. If not, this album may be a bit easier to listen to because of the range in source material but probably won’t change your mind about GENTLE LOVE’s work. For those who want to utilize it, this album delivers a potent musical arsenal to draw from, especially because there’s a great chance the listener will have strong associations with or memories of at least one song here.